The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 12:38-44, tells the story of Jesus observing the gift offered by a poor widow who enters the Temple in the midst of all the other would-be worshippers.
The religious leaders and high society folks are making sure everyone notices their grandiose gifts to the Temple treasury. The poor widow, however, unassumingly drops two small copper coins, worth about a penny, into the offering plate.
Jesus declares that she has contributed more than all the others, for she gave out of her poverty rather than simply serving up a slice of her wealth. The numbers do not add up in accordance with what he has said, but Christ is glancing past the numbers and seeing the hearts behind them.
This observation from Jesus is even more interesting when seen in light of the preceding context of Chapters 11 and 12 of this Gospel. Throughout these texts, Jesus is pointing out all of the persons, institutions and actions that he declares to fall short of a life that is lived loving God and neighbor with authenticity. Those who are the subject of his critique include Israel itself; the Temple; the Sanhedrin council; The Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees, groups composed of religious leaders of various ideologies; and the legal regulations, burnt offerings and sacrifices that were of such high importance to the Hebrew people.
In Mark 11:12-14 and 22-25, Jesus compares God’s chosen nation to a withered fig tree that has lost its ability to bear fruit. The temple in Mark 11:15-18 is described as a den of thieves, rather than as a house of worship to God.
The Sanhedrin (verses 11:27 and 12;12), Pharisees and Herodians (verses 12:13-17) and Sadducees (verses 12:18-27) fare no better; all of these religious leaders who are opposing Jesus are the very ones who were supposed to be the most qualified and perceptive of God’s redemptive plans and purposes being unfolded before their eyes.
In verses 12:28-34, legal regulations, burnt offerings and sacrifices—rituals and customs that have an outward appearance of holiness and piety—are asserted by Jesus to pale in comparison to his two-fold commandment of loving God and neighbor. They simply are not what God values the most. What God treasures is the widow’s mite, the true offering from the heart, a life abandoned to loving and serving him and fulfilling his purposes.
Such abandonment and obedience can be said to characterize what is often called stewardship. Stewardship can be defined as the morally responsible use of money, time, talents or other resources, especially with respect to the principles or needs of a community or group.
Financial stewardship is a key emphasis of Jesus’ earthly ministry, with more than 2,000 Gospel verses that refer to money. But these references are only guideposts to signal Jesus’ deeper, overall emphasis on an intentional way of living.
His words and actions teach us that the Old Testament giving model of the “Tithe”—10 percent of all we earn—is transcended by the poor widow’s choice of making herself fully available to God. Herself, and all she possesses, for God to use as he pleases, at whatever degree or amount he chooses.
This teaching of Jesus is further lived out by the Apostles, after Jesus dies and is resurrected and they are empowered by his Holy Spirit. In Acts 4:32-37, the intentional nature of biblical community is represented by the dynamic of a church existing with “no needy person” in its midst. Stewardship for the Apostles was not just something they did, but a world view on how people are to care for each other in the midst of community. It is an emblem of citizenship in the Kingdom of God, which is simply a visual metaphor for the life and power of Jesus Christ residing within us, a presently invisible reality that will express itself as a future world that resolves around loving God.
The New Testament’s powerful model of a life of stewardship for members of the church makes the present church pause to ask itself some difficult questions, in light of inconsistent attitudes about money and resources. Has the contemporary church at times simply overlooked these words of Jesus and these verses from Acts…or is Scripture simply outdated or, perhaps, irrelevant? The struggles of the church to integrate stewardship into “Christian” living—especially in our Western culture of plenty—can lead one to wonder whether it is living below the bar of excellence set by its biblical forefathers.
I grew restless in my career as a local newspaper reporter because I felt I had more potential to offer. I went off to seminary in an effort to get better educated and equipped, to grow spiritually and relationally. I did not want to stay where I was, vocationally or emotionally.
The Christian walk is just that—a walk, something in motion, something ever evolving, a living organism. There is always more potential to activate. God is always drawing more out of us, because he made us for incredible things to be empowered by his Spirit.
To fully cultivate a stewardship lifestyle, members of the Body of Christ must activate more of that latent potential.
This is not easy. It takes practice, struggle, prayer, confession, sharing, trying and failing, trying again. The end result of persevering through all of this is a life that makes a difference. It’s a life of careful planning for one’s own dreams and the dreams of the community of which a person is a part.
It takes planning for most people to put themselves in a position to give back financially. Planning keeps the key essentials in mind—cash flow, retirement, education, unexpected life events or death…and resources for pursuing your personal dreams.
The goal is planning ahead while holding onto the big picture of our lives as stewards. It involves constantly asking one’s self, “How am I using my time, talents and resources to have the maximum impact for my family and for the family of God?”
My personal vision as a businessman is to help individuals, families, businesses, churches and other organizations reach their fullest potential through intentional planning of how they allocate and invest their resources. My goal for myself and each person I encounter is to ultimately reflect the image of Christ—to take on the personality, mindset, worldview and actions embraced by Jesus himself.
One man has said, “There are three kinds of giving: grudge giving, duty giving, and thanksgiving. Grudge giving says, ‘I have to’; duty giving says, ‘I ought to’; thanksgiving says, ‘I want to.'”
The Life of Stewardship is a life that is chosen, perhaps with uncertainty at first, but gradually with more and more conviction, resolve and joy. It is a life we need, but ultimately a life we want.